How to Surf Life: Attorney Turned Surf Guru


(Photo: envisionpublicidad)

Many a false step was made by standing still.
-Fortune Cookie

Named must your fear be before banish it you can.
-Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back


Twenty feet and closing.

“Run! Ruuuuuuuuuun!” Hans didn’t speak Portuguese, but the meaning was clear enough—haul ass. His sneakers gripped firmly on the jagged rock, and he drove his chest forward towards 3,000 feet of nothing.

He held his breath on the final step, and the panic drove him to near unconsciousness. His vision blurred at the edges, closing to a single pin point of light, and then… he floated. The all-consuming celestial blue of the horizon hit his visual field an instant after he realized that the thermal updraft had caught him and the wings of the paraglider. Fear was behind him on the mountain top, and thousands of feet above the resplendent green rain forest and pristine white beaches of Copacabana, Hans Keeling had seen the light.

That was Sunday.

On Monday, Hans returned to his law office in Century City, Los Angeles’ posh corporate haven, and promptly handed in his three-week notice…

For nearly five years, he had faced his alarm clock with the same dread: I have to do this for another 40-45 years? He had once slept under his desk at the office after a punishing half-done project, only to wake up and continue on it the next morning. That same morning, he had made himself a promise: two more times and I’m out of here. Strike number three came the day before he left for his Brazilian vacation.

We all make these promises to ourselves, and Hans had done it before as well, but things were now somehow different. He was different. He had realized something while arcing in slow circles towards the earth—risks weren’t that scary once you took them. His colleagues told him what he expected to hear: he was throwing it all away. He was an attorney on his way to the top—what the hell did he want?

Hans didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he had tasted it. On the other hand, he did know what bored him to tears, and he was done with it. No more passing days as the living dead, no more dinners where his colleagues compared cars, riding on the sugar high of a new BMW purchase until someone bought a more expensive Mercedes. It was over.

Immediately, a strange shift began—Hans felt, for the first time in a long time, at peace with himself and what he was doing. He had always been terrified of plane turbulence, as if he might die with the best inside of him, but now he could fly through a violent storm sleeping like a baby. Strange indeed.

More than a year later, he was still getting unsolicited job offers from law firms but by then had started Nexus Surf, a premier surf-adventure company based in the tropical paradise of Florianopolis, Brazil. He had met his dream girl, a Carioca with caramel-colored skin named Tatiana [bottom right here], and spent most of his time relaxing under palm trees or treating clients to the best times of their lives.

Is this what he had been so afraid of?

These days, he often sees his former self in the under-joyed and overworked professionals he takes out on the waves. Waiting for the swell, the true emotions come out: “God, I wish I could do what you do.” His reply is always the same: “You can.”

The setting sun reflects off the surface of the water, providing a zen-like setting for a message he knows is true: it’s not giving up to put your current path on indefinite pause. He could pick up his law career exactly where he left off if he wanted to, but that is the furthest thing from his mind.

As they paddle back to shore after an awesome session, his clients get a hold of themselves and regain their composure. They set foot on shore, and reality sinks its fangs in: “I would, but I can’t really throw it all away.”

He has to laugh.


Excerpted from The 4-Hour Workweek, Chapter 3: Dodging Bullets – Fear-setting and Escaping Paralysis

Posted on: November 10, 2008.

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105 comments on “How to Surf Life: Attorney Turned Surf Guru

  1. Excellent excerpt, Tim, but as I sit and glance out of my hotel (and current home) window, watching the rain pour down on Sai Gon, I wonder if a life of adventure is really for everyone. If everyone shared Hans’ sense of longing for air or my sense of belonging in places that are so not like where I come from, would we gain the same amount of pleasure from doing what we do?

    It may not be the same as buying a BMW to impress our peers, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that adventure is to be envied, and those of us who take the leap do in some small part enjoy praise from others for “giving it all up” to chase our dreams. It’s all sugar, just in different forms.


  2. Thanks for posting this story Tim. It provides a little distraction for people like me who are stuck in the middle of life with no idea of how to live it. What I’d really like to know, however, are more of the details. I realize that you can’t tell a great story by weighing it down with a bunch of boring details, but I know that more happened between the time when Hans walked in and quit his job and now when he has this great life and career. What was it?

    Maybe I’m the only one reading your blog who feels this way, but doing something like Hans did just isn’t an option for me. For instance, I can’t live without a paycheck because I’ve got a child support payment that, if I miss it, will result in the law coming down on me like a ton of bricks. I know, these are just excuses, but I’m assuming that Hans and some of the other people in your book had details that they had to address in their transition from work as drudgery to work as life. Would it be possible to hear about them? Maybe then I might start to see how to take some of the small steps that I know are necessary to transform my life. Big steps are crucial, but small steps play their own important role.

    Thanks Tim.


    • You need to find your muse first to automate your income, then you can rest assured the child support is taken care of, THEN you can surf for a living or whatever it is that excites you.


  3. Thanks Tim, the book and blog are always so inspiring and motivating. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision and spend too much time worrying about unimportant stuff in front of us. Forgetting there’s a big world out there and why we work in the first place – to have money to fund our life, not define it. Great post as always!


  4. I have the fortune cookie “Many a false step was made by standing still” — sitting on my desk at work. I’m staring at it right now. I pulled it out of a fortune cookie just a week ago… (Geez… how many more nudges do I need?)


  5. Buenos días!

    I’m so excited, what about a New Year’s Party? Any hints are to what you’re planning for us? :-) I was front row at the Killers concert at the Paramount Studios last year so I can image it being superb with you planning or inviting us to a year end event.

    Anyway, you asked about Liver Tablets: Desiccated Liver Tablets by Jay Robb, I also enjoy his protein powders. By the way, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”- solid source. I got the book for a buck at some hole in the wall bookstore some time ago, I love those types of deals.

    Back to the subject… To be effective is to develop ourselves first and you do a serious well job of explaining that. Staying true to ourselves and working smart should be obvious but it’s not because of the conditioning phases in our lives. Also, the problems occur when we lack commitment, engagement, and have trouble making decisions (good future topic). The token here isn’t about a motivation towards a perfect lifestyle but rather a better lifestyle. What I understood: Don’t try to be perfect, just try to be a better person. It comes with great rewards.

    So, thanks Tim for putting this chapter out there. You’re giving an awesome contribution to help strip those layers of nonsense.

    Everyone, have a fabulous week!



  6. I agree with Ken’s comment completely. My view on life has changed dramatically since reading The 4-Hour Workweek. I’m just waiting for my husband to get on board now! I’m only 36 but already tired of living the status quo.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration Tim!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello Tim. My name is Spyros, I live in Greece, in Athens and lately I go every Friday to a calm by the sea village, 100km away from the city to relax and find my balance and go back Monday night. There I read your book and try to think open and make my ideas work. I ve made a site for siblings (like me) of persons with mental ilness and one for ADD –
    I like the way you think. Today I was looking google Analytics and Adwords thank to your book.

    If you ever pass from Athens you are welcome to my appartement, no need to look on


  8. It is inspiring. But I cant help but to think that he had the “money” to move on. Others have keen ideas, stability and support. Maybe thats whats blocking me. The idea of “Money.”



  9. Hi Tim! I’m trying to perfect note-taking as you describe in a previous post and I’m almost done with Waitzkin’s book The Art of Learning. Are you willing to post a photo of your notes from The Art of Learning as you did with the AJ Jacobs book so I can compare and improve my note-taking? Thanks for any help. -Bill


  10. And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage? Roger Waters

    Right now I have a lead role in a cage…too many dependants and still haven’t figured out how to support them and live a life outside the cage. i think it’s a lot tougher to do all of these inspired things in my situation but not impossible…that’s why this blog inspires me…people have found a way.


  11. Truly inspiring!!! I think that in our society, one aspect of his success is the fact that he has a degree which he can fall back on, just in case. I’m 21 and graduating from university in the very near future. My dream is to clearly to live a life of virtually unlimited mobility. As Manda mentioned, I will need to save enough, in order to leave and start over.
    Keep up the great posts


  12. Hey Tim,

    The book is amazing and every time I read it I feel inspired. I read a book recently which I think is really noteworthy because it’s kinda on the undercover. Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford has written a very legible book which I think will change a lot of people. It’s called Mindset, and it talks mainly about the differences of the growth mindset vs the fixed ability mindset. Here’s an article in Stanford Magazine that relates to the book:

    I think the book is a worthy read for all


  13. Tim,
    Find your self a woman and start a family. Start living like a man. This bullsh*t you do to impress us is really for kids. Grow up.


    Hi Dave,

    I’m not sure where this anger is coming from. I don’t do anything on this blog to impress you or anyone else.

    As for starting a family, I’m all for it and ready when I find the right person. What’s the rush? That’s rhetorical: for me and most 31-year old males, there is none.

    Relax, big fella! The case studies I offer include families, and my parents have been married for more than 30 years.




  14. I love this story and I can relate to it as well. I just quick my job at the age of 29 and moved to Honduras to live my life by design. It is excited and exhilarating to know that you control your life and not some corporate boss. Mobility is key.

    In regards to Manda’s comment above about the idea of money. I once held the mindset that lack of money was a detouring factor for me to do what I want to do when I want to do it. However, I realized that if I focused on lack all I got was more lack. When I started to focus on abundance and begin seeing that money started to show up in my life and I was able to do what I wanted. I hope this help! :)


  15. That sounds great for a 30 something bloke, but what if you’re a genteel woman, who likes a quiet life, watching the garden, tasting the food etc at a leisurely pace, and surfing the waves just doesn’t do it for ya. Peace is so much simpler to attain, and can be got where you’re at, for relatively nothing, at a nice, steady pace. It is surely a mindset. Life is good. And if excitement is what *does* do it for one, then that can be found too, even as a corporate whatever if one looks for it, surely? Love Tim’s blog!!